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Reports suggest that Alabama needs more college graduates if it hopes to remain competitive in tomorrow's economy. By improving educational attainment and access, online colleges in Alabama may help close the state's achievement gap.

Online Colleges in Alabama

Technology has revolutionized the way today's students learn, and perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than within the ever-growing realm of online education. Web-based learning has improved college access the world over, generating new opportunities for those whose locations or lifestyles prohibit them from attending traditional classrooms.

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Acknowledging the value of online education, Alabama is investing in online learning opportunities for its residents. One of its hallmark initiatives in this department is its participation on the Southern Regional Education Board's Electronic Campus. According to the SREB, this "electronic marketplace" of online courses and programs from regionally accredited colleges and universities was designed to match students with online courses through a number of regional colleges. By providing a large database of online programs with comparable data points among them, SREB's Electronic Campus helps Alabama students make decisions about their educations.

Another way Alabama is embracing online learning is through the SREB's Academic Common Market. Like the Electronic Campus, the ACM was designed to improve Southern students' access to higher education through online coursework, in this case by coordinating online coursework offered through a number of institutions so that students can enroll in those classes -- wherever they are offered -- without having to pay out-of-state rates.

Trends in Alabama Online Schools

The nonprofit Sloan Consortium makes a case for the growth and longevity of online education within the United States, Alabama included. According to its 2010 report "Class Differences: Online Education in the United States," a full two-thirds of private-sector colleges and universities say online learning was a critical part of their long-term education strategy. Meanwhile, the growth rate for online enrollments in 2010 was 21 percent nationally, significantly outpacing the 2 percent growth in college enrollment overall. As online schools in Alabama continue to grow in number -- and as long as the state continues to invest in online education -- Alabamans can benefit from the opportunities online education provides.

College Degrees in Alabama

The data is clear: Alabama needs more college graduates. According to a report compiled by the Lumina Foundation -- citing data provided by the Census Bureau -- 31.5 percent of Alabama's 2.5 million working-age adults held at least a 2-year degree in 2010 compared to 38.3 percent nationally. If Alabama's current rate of degree production continues, about 35 percent of its working-age residents will hold degrees by the year 2018. This modest increase fails to meet not just the national average but the projected demand for college-educated workers within Alabama: According to a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, 55 percent of Alabama's jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018.

The Lumina Foundation suggests that one of the major barriers to educational attainment in Alabama is the state's sluggish completion rate. According to the report, in 2010, 23 percent of Alabama's adult population had attended, but not finished, college. Online schools in Alabama may help curb this trend by simply providing an option of convenience for those whose work or family obligations prevent them from attending a traditional campus-based program.

It is important to note that though the CEW and Lumina Foundation suggest Alabama needs more college graduates across the board, there are a few fast-growing industries that may especially benefit from a more educated workforce. The Alabama Department of Labor projects that the two industries that will grow the fastest within the state between 2010 and 2020 are health care and social assistance; and professional, scientific and technical services. Many occupations within these fields require at least some formal education, and Alabama online schools may provide at least some of it.

Online Colleges in Alabama

Institutions offering online degrees in Alabama include both public and private institutions of various sizes and specialties. Perhaps one of the largest schools to do so is the University of Alabama. The University of Alabama has made a name for itself, both on the football field and in the classroom. Now, through its Bama by Distance program, it is expanding its footprint in the online learning arena, too. According to UA's official website, Bama by Distance offers students the opportunity to earn their bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees, or enroll in nontraditional coursework, completely online. Another prominent school offering online degrees in Alabama is the University of West Alabama. According to UWA Online, this institution offers over 30 master's and education specialist degrees, plus a number of baccalaureate degrees in fields such as accounting, business technology and business administration. There are a number of private-sector online schools in Alabama as well, including the University of Phoenix, Capella University and Kaplan University.

It is important to note that as with traditional colleges, no two online colleges in Alabama are alike. As such, those considering perusing online degrees in Alabama should research a wide breadth of institutions so that they may find a program that suits both their goals and their personal learning styles.

Sources:
Southern Regional Education Board's Electronic Campus, http://www.electroniccampus.org/
"Class Differences, Online Education in the United States, 2010," Sloan Consortium, http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/class_differences
Lumina Foundation, Alabama, 2012, http://www.luminafoundation.org/state/alabama/
Alabama Statewide Projected Employment by Major Industry, Alabama Department of Labor, http://www2.dir.state.al.us/Projections/Industry/indproj2020/State%20Industry%20File%202010-2020.pdf
United States Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/
Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, http://cew.georgetown.edu/
Bama By Distance, University of Alabama, http://bamabydistance.ua.edu/
UWA Online, University of West Alabama, http://www.uwa.edu/online_education/

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